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Miles Fidelman ([log in to unmask]) is right, of course: we need a
new regulatory regime and other changes so that information highways
aren't just for shopping networks and the like; I hope that the people
at the White House will pay heed. In case readers don't know, a major
White House statement on networks quoted his Center for Civic
Networking, which had released a vision paper on the information
highways. And maybe, just maybe, someone will listen. Jock Gill, are you
tuned in and ready to pass on your downloads to other Clintonians? By
any chance, have you also been reading Prescott Smith's Ednet postings
about schools without enough phone lines for Internetting? Or about
other gaps in the National Information Infrastructure?
 
Of course, decent telcom regs should be just a start. Even with the best
laws on the books, and with good people to enforce them, big
corporations all too often enjoy the upper hand. It is a simple matter
of resources. Cable and phone companies can hire the very best legal
talent and spend millions amassing the facts to make their cases. Money
doesn't prevail always, but it wins more than it should.
 
Moreover, technology is often friendlier to the regulated than to the
regulators. Officials cannot keep up with all the surprises that
companies spring. Just look at the proposed Bell Atlantic-TCI merger.
"Oh, man, Holly Jesus," the Washington Post quoted an FCC official the
other day.
 
What to do? One other answer, I suspect, is to make the government even
more of a buyer of some telcom-related services than it is now.
Washington could take advantage of its bargaining power in new ways--as
a volume purchaser for educational publications, newspapers, magazines
and some other content-originators, which would then sublease lines for
their electronic editions. Such a practice would be in an old tradition
and help preserve The Word. For decades, the government has granted
favorable postal rates to publishers and others, regardless of political
beliefs. The Nation has accepted them. So has National Review. Neither
would be as viable without special rates. And neither, to my knowledge,
has stopped speaking its mind about Clinton.
 
Oh, and, yes, I'm highly in favor of newspapers and magazines being able
to charge fees for fresh editions and run ads in them. In addition, I
believe that we should update the publics library metaphor and have the
feds pay for back clips, so that everyone could eventually get the
information.
 
The same centralized virtual database could also store books and
educational software available for free or for subscriptions based on
family income. For more information, see teleread.txt (150K), the latest
version of which I'll be happy to e-mail to anyone reading this note. I
tell how many librarians, in many cities, could run the database and
reflect local interests. The system could even allow publishers and
writers to bypass the librarians by gambling enough money up front.
Teleread.txt also explains how to drive down the cost of
reading-computers--and use the same technology for smart electronic
forms that could reduce the cost of dealing with the government. So we
could cost-justify the telcom discounts and the databases.
 
At any rate, pun intended, I'm delighted that Miles and like-minded
people are plugging away on such questions as the cost of access and
information in this era of mega-mergers. I'd like to keep reminding
them, however, that regulation is not an all-purpose cure, as I know
they'd agree. We must also RI government to take advantage of the new
technology in a way that benefits Americans everywhere, not just in rich
areas. Steve Cisler at Apple did a splendid job of illustrating the
challenges of spreading information around in a fair way. Researching
material for a posting a year or two ago, he learned that Shasta County
in California spent $2.51 per capital on library materials in 1988.
Beverly Hills spent $87.46. I'd hope that Miles and others would be open
to new ways to bridge the Shasta-BH gap.
 
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David H. Rothman                                  "So we beat on, boats against
[log in to unmask]                                 the current...."
805 N. Howard St., #240
Alexandria, Va. 22304
703-370-6540(o)(h)
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